Train collision in northern Germany causes nationwide travel delays

A collision between two freight trains in Lower Saxony is causing widespread disruptions along one of the busiest stretches of Germany's rail network.

Cargo trains near Gifhorn
The scene of the collision between two cargo trains near Gifhorn on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/TNN | Fernando Martinez Lopez

Read our latest story on the disruption affecting German long-distance train travel here:

How a cargo train collision is causing travel disruption across Germany

The accident occurred on Thursday morning on a stretch of track near Gifhorn in Lower Saxony, around 20km from Wolfsburg and 60km from Hanover.

According to the local fire service, a cargo train had stopped at a railway signal when a second cargo train ploughed into it from the back. 

The driver of the second train was badly injured and has been taken to hospital, while the driver of the first train sustained light injuries, a spokesperson said. 

As a result of the impact, two carriages holding propane gas were overturned while a further two were derailed, causing a major gas leak in the area.

However, authorities say local residents should not be affected as the accident occurred in a stretch of forest outside the town. 

The second cargo train had been transporting propane gas tanks in 25 carriages in total, the fire service explained. 

The reasons for the collision are so far unclear but the incident has caused largescale disruption on one of the most widely used sections of Germany’s railway track. 

Emergency services have said it will take at least a day to start clearing the area following the collision. Authorities now have to wait for the gas canisters to empty before they can start the clean-up operation.

READ ALSO: ‘Deutschlandticket’: What you need to know about Germany’s new €49 travel ticket

Which train routes are affected? 

According to Deutsche Bahn, the ICE connection between Hanover and Berlin has been severely affected by the line closure.

Passengers making this journey will be taken along a diverted route that will add an additional 60 minutes to their travel time.

This also applies to ICE trains travelling from Switzerland via Frankfurt and Kassel to Berlin.

Routes between the Netherlands and Germany are also disrupted following the incident. In particular, IC connections between Amsterdam and Berlin will only go as far as Hanover and will also start there in the opposite direction. 

Other ICE and IC trains in the section were cancelled or delayed, including the IC route from Hanover to Leipzig via Stendal. 

Passengers travelling on regional trains in the area should also expect disruptions due to the closure of track between Wolfsburg and Lehrte.

This will affect the RE30 train that normally runs from Hanover to Wolfsburg via Gifhorn, where the accident took place.

Deutsche Bahn has advised passengers to check their route in the DB website or DB Navigator app for regular updates.

However, emergency services predict that the work to reopen the track will take several days, which means disruptions could continue in the region on Friday and over the weekend. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany’s long-distance train services will change from December

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UPDATE: When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

UPDATE: When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Monday. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, said on Wednesday that they believe the beginning of May will be a more realistic start date.

The federal and state transport ministers have set their sights on an April deadline, but this depends on whether funding and technical issues can be sorted out by then. In short, the only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023. 

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket continues to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

The federal government has agreed to stump up €1.5 billion for the new ticket, which the states will match out of their own budgets. That brings the total funding for the offer up to €3 billion. 

But according to Bremen’s transport minister Maike Schaefer, the actual cost of the ticket is likely to be closer to €4.7 billion – especially during the initial implementation phase – leaving a €1.7 billion hole in finances.

Transport companies are concerned that it will fall to them to take the financial hit if the government doesn’t provide enough funding. They say this will be impossible for them to shoulder. 

Burkert from EVG is calling on the federal government to provide more than the €1.5 billion originally earmarked for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.

So, what now? 

Well, it seems that the federal states are happy to pay half of whatever the ticket actually costs – but so far, the federal government has been slow to make the same offer.

With the two crucial ministries – the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry – headed up by politicians from the liberal FDP, environment groups are accusing the party of blocking the ticket by proxy. 

According to Jürgen Resch, the director of German Environment Aid, Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Transport Minister Volker Wissing are deliberately withholding the necessary financial support for the states.

Wissing has also come under fire from the opposition CDU/CSU parties after failing to turn up to a transport committee meeting on Wednesday. 

The conservatives had narrowly failed in a motion to summon the minister to the meeting and demand a report on the progress of the €49 ticket.

“The members of the Bundestag have many unanswered questions and time is pressing,” said CDU transport politician Thomas Bareiß, adding that the ticket had falling victim to a “false start”.